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Proud Pink Sky

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Berlin: a megacity of 24 million people, is the world’s first gay state. Its distant radio broadcasts are a lifeline for teenager William, so when his love affair with Gareth is discovered the two flee toward sanctuary. But is there a place for them in a city divided into districts for young twinks, trendy bears, and rich alpha gays?

Meanwhile, young mother Cissie loves Berlin’s towering highrises and chaotic multiculturalism, yet she’s never left her heterosexual district – not until she and her family are trapped in a queer riot. With her husband Howard plunging into religious paranoia, she discovers a walled-off slum of perpetual twilight, home to the city’s forbidden trans residents.

As William and Cissie dive deeper into a bustling world of pride parades, polyamorous trysts, and even an official gay language, they discover that all is not well in the gay state – each playing their part in a looming civil war...

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First published March 14, 2023

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About the author

Redfern Jon Barrett

11 books140 followers
Redfern Jon Barrett is author to novels including Proud Pink Sky, a speculative story set in the world’s first LGBTQ+ country (Amble Press, 2023) and The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights – which was a finalist for the Bisexual Book Awards.

Redfern’s essays and short stories have appeared in publications including The Sun Magazine, Guernica, Strange Horizons, Passages North, PinkNews, Booth, FFO, ParSec, Orca, and Nature.

Born in Sheffield in 1984, Redfern grew up in market towns, seaside resorts, and post-industrial cities, before moving to Wales and gaining a PhD in Literature from Swansea University (Prifysgol Abertawe). They are nonbinary queer, and currently live in Berlin with their two boyfriends.

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Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 reviews
Profile Image for Owen Blacker.
69 reviews34 followers
January 20, 2023
An entertaining alternate history focussing on 2 characters who move to The Gay Republic of Berlin, 50 years after the lesbian and gay (sic) enclave founded by UN resolution in 1948 at the end of a slightly different World War 2.

We follow queer teens William and Gareth as they flee a UK even more homophobic than ours was — whereas in their reality, there was no Wolfenden Report leading to (partial) decriminalisation of sex between men in 1967 and all the queer big names fled to Berlin, in ours my first Pride was in 1994, the era of New Queer Cinema and the year Priscilla was released; in our reality the 1998 setting saw the launch of Will & Grace and plenty of queer films, even if they were indies we had to seek out in the specialist sections of large film and music stores, like Bishonen (美少年之恋), Fucking Åmål , Head On , The Opposite of Sex , Sitcom , Velvet Goldmine . (Yes, those are all recommendations.)

We also see a straight family with 2 sons: father Howard is a Gastarbeiter builder and Cissie is a housewife; they both grew up in conservative small-town Ohio with the definite implication that the sexual revolution didn’t happen and Middle America is still stuck in the rose-tinted 1950s that some Republicans think was idyllic for everyone, rather than just middle-class WASPs. In both cases we only really focus on 1 of the pair, with less attention given to their partners, which I found a little disappointing — I really enjoyed how William and Gareth settled into their own kinds of queerness in Berlin and would have liked to have seen more from Gareth’s perspective and more of Howard’s journey (and maybe more of Rob?), but I certainly wouldn’t’ve wanted to lose any of the time we spend with William and Cissie. (And I can’t believe it took me half the book to notice that the woman exploring the hidden community of trans outlaws is literally called Cis sie!)

It took me a while for my pedantic arse to get into the excellent worldbuilding, which was definitely more about me than Barrett’s work — while I have a kneejerk dislike for “these kinds of people live over here and those live over there”, the rationale for doing so in Gay Berlin (with districts like Twinkstadt, Paw and Diesel) certainly makes sense in-world. After a moment to get used it, I also really enjoyed the increasing use of Polari, which also benefits from a very detailed glossary at the end (less obvious in an ebook until you get to it, frustratingly) and Barrett adds some interesting and well-thought-through expansions for a language still extant in their world.

As with all science fiction, the novel is a vehicle for exploring a contemporary problem through the lens of analogy; the analogy is pretty direct here and there are 2 related themes being reviewed in this regard. Despite the setting being the literal opposite of assimilationist gays, the Gay Republic polices a socially-conservative view of sexual orientation and gender, with the same kind of “respectability politics” that has plagued queer discourse for several years. In our world that has looked like a focus on blending in with the cis-hetero-patriarchy, such as equal marriage and adoption rights, and increased policing of deviance, such as “no kink at Pride”, “drag shows are indecent” and the increasingly fascist-connected transphobia so ubiquitous in British discourse. That policing of deviance is overt and explicit in Gay Berlin, with citizenship only available to same-sex-married couples; bisexuality and polyamory are both forbidden. Even the spartan accommodation offered to straight Gastarbeiter are nicer than the slums to which trans and non-binary residents are banished. I really liked that polyamory, transness and the queering of gender expression being favourably portrayed against the cryptofascist “respectability politics”.

The main story background, beyond the specifics of William and Cissie’s own arcs, was relatively straightforward but well-composed and all-in-all this was an entertaining read — and, having spent a lot of time reading alternate histories a little while back, it was great to read one that was not just queer-inclusive (as SM Stirling’s Emberverse was) but queer-centred. I’ll have to keep an eye out for more of Barrett’s work.
1 review
February 20, 2023
"Proud Pink Sky" by Redfern Jon Barrett is a thought-provoking and engaging novel that explores an alternate history of Berlin, where the city becomes the world's first gay state. The story is set in 1990s, but instead of the hollow, only-partially-rebuilt version of Berlin that we’re familiar with in our history, it instead presents Berlin as a sprawling megacity with different city districts for different sexual identities and subgroups. The story follows the lives of several characters — primarily William, Gareth, and Cissie — as they navigate the complexities of politics, relationships, and personal identity in the city. The characters in "Proud Pink Sky" are complex, flawed, and compelling, making it easy to connect with their struggles and successes, even if their particular self discoveries are different from our own. With rich world building and a down-to-earth writing style, Barrett creates a captivating and immersive reading experience.

The novel provides an extremely nuanced portrayal of an LGBTQ+ community that is very similar to the one(s) we know, even though the details of their history and their world are radically different. Overall, "Proud Pink Sky" is a beautifully crafted novel that delivers both on its world-building and its exploration of important social and political issues. It is a must-read for anyone interested in alternate histories, LGBTQ+ literature, or character-driven stories.
2 reviews1 follower
March 14, 2023
I found this a really entertaining alternate history, weaving together the stories of characters that move (or flee) to the world’s first gay state in Berlin. There’s a great cast of queer characters of various flavours, but the narrative arc of the novel focuses on one gay male pair and a straight couple as we see them discover and create new lives for themselves.

The world building is excellent, with the events and characters together bringing a lot of depth and realism to the setting of Berlin. There are many allegories to be seen here, not least the prejudice and hate that can be perpetrated on others or each other by already persecuted minorities. That darker side is mixed into events and characters at such a pace that I found this such a fun read, so although it’s pretty direct I found it exciting rather than dark. The reflections Barrett presents on our own world stuck with me as much as the characters have.
Profile Image for Lindsey.
47 reviews6 followers
March 6, 2023
Such a delicious novel! The world-building has to be mentioned, it's richly woven and surrounds the protagonists like a blanket. There is a history, provided via excerpts from a guidebook, that grounds the story in a reality just slightly to one side of our reality. The real story though (as it should be in any book worth reading) takes place within the hearts of the main characters and how they grow and evolve in reaction to the unfolding events of the plot. As much as I like William's wide-eyed youthful perspective as an entry point to the city and the story, Cissie is my favourite. She is rendered so tenderly. This is a story with a huge amount of empathy and I love it for that.
Profile Image for Siavahda.
Author 2 books115 followers
February 21, 2023
HIGHLIGHTS
~twinks have their own city district
~so do Daddies
~Cissie is not a sissy but is she cis???

I’m not sure what I think of Proud Pink Sky. I was so excited by the premise – especially when the author assured me that trans and nonbinary people played a central role! – that it was one of my most anticipated releases of 2023.

Now I’ve finished it, I feel a little…underwhelmed?

Proud Pink Sky is an alternate-history novel where Berlin became the world’s first ‘gay state’ in the aftermath of WW2, due in large part to the role the queer community played in resisting the Nazis. (In fact, in this timeline, the Nazis were kicked out of Berlin before the start of the war by the ‘gay brigades’ who had zero time for fascists.) This has in no way endeared or even normalised queerness to the rest of the world, unfortunately, and Berlin sees a huge number of gay and lesbian refugees and immigrants for this reason.

The story takes place over about a year – starting in 1998 and wrapping up in 1999 – and follows three main characters: William and Gareth, teenagers who escape to Berlin from England after their relationship is discovered; and Cissie, a homemaker who moves to Berlin from Ohio with her husband and children because the ‘gay city’ has plenty of great job opportunities, even for ‘breeders’ – although they’re expected to keep themselves to themselves in the hetero district of the city.

(And yes, I laughed at Cissie’s very on-the-nose name. I AM IMMATURE AND EASILY AMUSED.)

Barrett has done an enormous amount of worldbuilding, with this alternate-Berlin’s history mirroring or echoing our real world in some very interesting ways. Despite what you might expect, Berlin is not a glorious, free-for-all queer utopia (alas); instead it’s an incredibly rigid, unforgiving culture obsessed with sticking its citizens in the ‘right’ categories, categories which are even reflected in the city’s geography (as each approved subculture or label is given their own district). Bisexuality is legal, but viewed with immense suspicion, and it’s not safe for m/f couples to be in public as couples (we see one such couple assaulted, harassed, and eventually driven from the bar where Gareth works). Monogamy is mandatory; refugees and immigrants don’t receive full citizenship unless they’re married to someone of their own sex, lest ‘secret straights’ flood Berlin by lying about their sexual orientation. (Why anyone thinks this is a thing, when the rest of the world is still homophobic as fuck, is…well, once upon a time I would have called it poor worldbuilding, but being a bit older and wiser and more cynical, I now don’t find it hard to believe. It makes no sense, but then, bigots panicking about immigration never do.)

The list goes on, but a clear focus of Proud Pink Sky is the trans and nonbinary community. Despite acknowledging that it was trans people who kickstarted the riots that drove out the Nazis (echoing our world’s Stonewall) and the fact that, pre-Nazis, Berlin was the site of the first sex-change operation in the world, in this alt-Berlin it is illegal to be anything but cis. Anyone who doesn’t fit inside the binary is cast out to the slums, which are enclosed in an 8km wall (significantly shorter than our world’s Berlin Wall, but an obvious nod to it). To be trans and/or nonbinary is to be considered a pervert at best and a member of a queer terrorist group at worst.

And what little plot exists here revolves around Remould, the aforementioned walled-in neighbourhood. Cissie makes her way there by accident, and gradually begins to form relationships with the people there and find meaningful work for herself (not that taking care of a home and children aren’t meaningful, but at least to Cissie they seem meaningful in a different way). William, uneasily aware that he doesn’t fit neatly into Berlin any more than he did back in England, grows increasingly sympathetic towards and drawn to everyone who doesn’t fit neatly into their assigned boxes. Gareth, eager to embrace all that Berlin is, doesn’t understand William’s reticence, and friction ensues.

That’s…kind of it.

Proud Pink Sky is, honestly, mortally dull. Nothing really happens. Until the very sudden, massively confusing ending, which I think was an attempt to give the book a hopeful ending, but, uh…no. No. That’s not how human beings work. That’s not how people respond to That. That’s not how communities react to That. That? Is not any kind of magic wand that suddenly makes people less bigoted or less afraid. What even.

Read the rest at Every Book a Doorway!
Profile Image for Redfern Barrett.
Author 11 books140 followers
Read
March 14, 2023
PROUD PINK SKY LAUNCHES TODAY! Set in the world's first gay state and described as 'gripping' by Publisher's Weekly, you can find a copy at all major book retailers, and a whole host of independent stores. Here are some links!

AMAZON: https://a.co/d/c5ivSNy
BYWATER: https://www.bywaterbooks.com/product/...
BARNES & NOBLE: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/prou...
BOOK DESPOSITORY: https://www.bookdepository.com/Proud-...

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR PROUD PINK SKY:

‘As astute and frightening as Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, yet reads with the pace and energy of a modern action thriller.’
– Drew Rowsome for MyGayToronto.com

‘Tender and heart-breaking, Proud Pink Sky is centred on a Berlin that could have been – a paradisal Gay Republic that is not all it seems – and it's absolutely captivating, a perfect blend of reality and fiction, disquiet and hope, caution and celebration. Beautifully conceived and deeply affecting, Proud Pink Sky is a book you'll want to return to again and again.’
– Calder Szewczak, author(s) of The Offset

‘The conflicts and conversations - both micro and macro - will be achingly familiar to anyone who has been engaged with queer or trans movements in recent years, helping us to remember the vital need for coalition and solidarity right now. Please read this book!'
– MJ Barker, author of Queer: A Graphic History

‘Drawing on an in-depth knowledge of queer history, Proud Pink Sky richly imagines an alternative world that is neither utopia nor dystopia. Barrett’s vertical Berlin is a setting built on dreams, yet pocked with flaws, nuances, and squabbles that make it feel credible and strangely universal. Intriguing and occasionally shattering, Proud Pink Sky defies binaries in more ways than one, making it a compelling and welcome addition to the speculative Queer canon.’
– Christian Baines, author of The Beast Without

‘Redfern’s fabulous “what if?” envisions the queerest of timelines – a post-war Berlin that refashions itself as the world’s only gay city-state. This electrifying tour through a would-be utopia riven by its own contradictory laws, traditions, and prejudices is at once deeply celebratory and critical. Like Nineteen Eight-Four, its distant ancestor, the novel questions and probes but dares to hope for a happier, freer future.’
– Brett Josef Grubisic, author of The Age of Cities and My Two-Faced Luck

‘To enter the pages of Proud Pink Sky is to be engulfed by a tidal power of masterful storytelling, morphing histories, and utopian imaginings. Boundaries of families and colonies, maps and guidebooks, words and sounds, dissolve into delicious, heady outcomes in this vital inhabitation of queer homelands. The crisp narrative pace combines with sensuous contours of language to remind one that to belong to an electrifying urban milieu is to also belong to its many troubled, unspoken intimacies and exiles. Redfern Jon Barrett has composed a virtuosic novel of fearless incantations.’
– Gayathri Prabhu, author of If I Had to Tell It Again

In Proud Pink Sky, Redfern Jon Barrett demonstrates that utopias and dystopias are not the opposites of each other – they coexist in the exact same space. With Barett's eye for both history and prophecy, the Gay Republic of Berlin feels as lived in as a real nation. Though they've built an imaginative and thought-through alternative universe, they don't stop there; the yearnings and struggles of their characters are also true and engrossing. Barrett's novel is a compelling page-turning read and an important warning.
– Paul Gallant, Author of Still More Stubborn Stars
Profile Image for 'Nathan Burgoine.
Author 55 books408 followers
March 14, 2023
It takes a lot of talent to world-build an entirely different timeline where Berlin became the lesbian and gay city-state, the rest of the world never really had watershed moments of queer activism or progress (or only had lesser versions thereof), and the ongoing migration of gay and lesbian people to that one place where they aren't just accepted, but the norm has fallout throughout the world (though we only really get to see it through the lens of an even-more-queerphobic UK and a US that's all the more stuck in the 50's nuclear family "ideal") and sets the stage for this story, which follows a few characters as they explore different sides of this "wonderful" and find it—just as often as not—far from wonderful.

I think the singular fulcrum of where you'll land with Proud Pink Sky is in that exploration. I freaking loved how Proud Pink Sky takes the dangers of respectability politics, alongside the bi-erasure, the hostility and ignorance around polyamory, the internal trans-hate within the queer community, and the focus on false binaries, all from within our real-world queer movements, and plays them out on this stage. This Berlin is only really better if you're a certain kind of queer, and while by no means is this subtle, I think I liked how Barrett's decision to go so glaringly, blazingly, 'Look at how awful this shit is!' while counterbalancing that with just enough moments of characters who don't fit finding their own places and ways among the ruins and smaller places, which is so often the present-day, real-world queer existence.

I'm glad this one is out in the world, and I hope it does well. I also hope queer readers (and especially cis, homosexual queer readers) maybe get a little uncomfortable if they're already the sort who still somehow think 'it will be okay if we show them we're just like them' is a valid way forward, rather than the self-defeating, harmful disaster it is.

Also, can I just snort-laugh one more time at a character's name being Cissie? Because snort-laugh.

(As an aside, I truly appreciated the polari glossary at the end of the book—and Barrett's evolution thereof—but really, really wished I'd had a physical copy of the book to be able to flip back-and-forth on that front. This book was the most I've ever used the bookmark feature in my ereader.)
Profile Image for Grady.
Author 50 books831 followers
March 14, 2023
Exploring Queer history

Berlin author Redfern Jon Barrett, born in England and educated in Wales, earned his PhD in Literature from Swansea University and in addition to writing acclaimed novels and short stories is active in campaigning for LGBTQ and polyamory rights. PROUD PINK SKY is the second novel from this gifted writer.

Barrett’s flowing prose illuminates aspects of the world gay people inhabit, allowing inspection and admiration and understanding as depicted in a fantasy Berlin. As the synopsis capsulises: ‘A glittering gay metropolis of 24 million people, Berlin is a bustling world of pride parades, polyamorous trysts, and even an official gay language. Its distant radio broadcasts are a lifeline for teenagers William and Gareth, who flee toward sanctuary. But is there a place for them in the deeply divided city? Meanwhile, young mother Cissie loves Berlin’s towering high rises and chaotic multiculturalism, yet she’s never left her heterosexual district—not until she and her family are trapped in a queer riot. With her husband Howard plunging into religious paranoia, she discovers a walled-off slum of perpetual twilight, home to the city’s forbidden trans residents. As William and Cassie personal journeys lead them to increasingly identify with Berlin’s outsiders and underclass, the city’s tensions, inequalities and contradictions explode into violence and a looming civil war in which each of them will play their part.’

Clearly Barrett is a rising star in LGBTQ literature, a luminous presence to follow closely. Recommended on many levels
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